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Historic Places | Dodge County

Watch now: A tavern hits the road and adds to the Old World Wisconsin collection

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OLD ASHIPPUN — The Wittnebel family is accustomed to gatherings here, but never like this.

There were the usual donuts, homemade cookies and even a plate of cheese and sausage.

But unlike other family get-togethers, this one featured an escort to the county line by the Ashippun Fire Department, a balloon release and bottles of A&W Root Beer (it was too early for a beer) affixed with cards bearing a green “W” and the words “One for the Road.”

A tavern hits the road

Wittnebel’s Tavern, a fixture here since 1906, was moved Tuesday south 27 miles to Old World Wisconsin. The tavern, separated into three pieces, each with its own trailer, rolled down Highway 67 through Oconomowoc, over the Bark River and through Dousman before it wound through the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, over the Ice Age Trail and into the state’s premier historic site that opened in 1976.

Wittnebel's Tavern on the move

Two sections of Wittnebel's Tavern in Old Ashippun head south on Highway 67 near Oconmowoc on Tuesday. The 27-mile move to Old World Wisconsin took about 95 minutes.

This is where the tavern will not only be restored to its 1930s look and be preserved for generations to come, but will once again serve as a gathering place. Only it will be located between a new brewery and the round Clausing Barn, and be part of an interactive and immersive brewing exhibit under construction at the state historic site just south of Eagle.

“To get to this day is quite exciting, for our family to know that this space that we grew up in will live on in another environment,” said Barb Lund, whose grandparents, Frank and Fanny Wittnebel, founded the tavern. “We’re grateful. Who could have predicted this? Certainly not my parents. Certainly not my grandparents. This will live on for many, many more years.”

Wittnebel's Tavern on the move

Bystanders watch just before two of the three sections of Wittnebel's Tavern along Highway 67 in Old Ashippun begin a trek Tuesday to Old World Wisconsin.

The front and back bar, a wooden walk-in beer cooler with a single tap handle and 10 barstools were removed from the tavern in 2017 after being donated by the Wittnebel family to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

The tavern building was purchased from the family in 2018 by the Wisconsin Historical Real Estate Foundation so the structure could be part of the $5.5 million Brewing Experience project.

The project includes a building with large bay windows that provide views to the west, a small bar and two massive fireplaces where kettles of beer will be brewed over flames using traditional recipes. The Experience will also offer up demonstrations, tastings, a beer garden and a farm plot where visitors can see how grains and hops are grown.

Wittnebel's Tavern on the move

Dan Freas, site director at Old World Wisconsin, shows off the Brewing Experience building under construction at the state historic site. Wittnebel's Tavern will be placed next door to this building later this year.

The brewing operation is scheduled for completion by this fall while the tavern won’t likely be completed until late 2022. There are also plans for a new visitor center, tram station and improved parking, said Dan Freas, Old World Wisconsin’s site director. Tuesday marked the first time since Caldwell Farmers Club Hall was moved to the site in the mid 1990s that Old World Wisconsin has received a historic structure.

“It’s quite a high point for us,” Freas said, as he stood near the tavern’s roof, its green metal gutters still attached. “We’re excited now to get it put back together on its new foundation.”

Wittnebel's Tavern on the move

The roof of Wittnebel's Tavern leaves Old Ashippun Tuesday, on its way to Old World Wisconsin. The 27-mile trip took about 95 minutes.

The foundation should be completed by June, at which point Findorff Construction, which over the last month disassembled the building, will come back to stack the pieces of the tavern back to its original form. The interior will likely take months to complete, Freas said. Ground was broken in late 2020 for the Brewing Experience building.

A team effort

Getting the tavern from southern Dodge County to Old World Wisconsin was a massive production that included the Wisconsin State Patrol, Department of Transportation, Findorff and Heritage Movers, a Grant County company that specializes in moving buildings. The route stuck to Highway 67 but took the bypass around much of Oconomowoc. The caravan stalled traffic at times, brought people out to their front porches and on two lane stretches of road, and forced oncoming traffic to move onto the shoulder of the roadway to allow the sections to pass.

Wittnebel's Tavern on the move

The roof of Wittnebel's Tavern had a tight squeeze as it entered Old World Wisconsin on Tuesday.

A few trees were removed in the entrance drive to Old World Wisconsin. But even then, the roof barely squeezed through, narrowly missing other trees and a split-rail fence. The trip for the first floor and the roof took about 95 minutes with speeds varying from 10 mph to 35 mph. The second floor was brought later in the day.

“There was some tight curves to navigate,” said B.J. Bowen, Findorff’s group manager of special projects. “But it’s in good condition and in a spot now where it can go back together.”

Wittnebel's Tavern on the move

Barb Lund, of the third generation of the family-owned Wittnebel's Tavern in Old Ashippun, spends a few final moments in 2017 just prior to the bar being removed from the tavern building. The roadside tavern was founded by her grandparents in 1906, has been closed since 1987 but will reopen, likely in 2022, at Old World Wisconsin.

A time capsule

But unlike some bars that have evolved over the years, Wittnebel’s Tavern has been like its own time capsule, and that’s what drew the attention of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Lund’s parents operated the bar from the 1940s to 1987, but over the last 30 years the tavern spaces had been used only for the occasional family gathering.

Lund was on hand in 2017 when the fixtures were removed from the bar and shipped off to storage. On Tuesday, she was appreciative that change had not come to the family establishment.

“This bar remained the same as it was and in the end that was the gift. That was the appeal, that nothing had happened to it in years,” Lund said. “As it is in pieces, it is not the way we knew it, but it will become something new and something we can look back on and say this was our past.”

The tavern building was purchased from the family in 2018 by the Wisconsin Historical Real Estate Foundation so the structure could be part of the $5.5 million Brewing Experience project.


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